Strange Fruit, a song performed most famously by Billie Holiday, became the national anthem for African Americans after it was recorded in 1939. This song hauntingly condemns American racism, particularly the lynching of African Americans. Loretta Lee believes so strongly in Holiday and what she represents to African American history that she pays homage to the legend by performing her songs. Lee is recognized for her breathtaking performance and striking impersonation of the late songstress. –tony binns
Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is a song of protest. What does it mean to you?
Billie was the first ever to record a protest song and became a trailblazer. I feel as though “Strange Fruit” expresses the real life horror of lynching. Her interpretation of this song painted a terrifying picture of lynched black bodies hanging from a tree. This was a courageous and strategic method of using her popularity to expose how savage and inhumane lynching was to her fans and oppressors. This song serves as the motivation for what I feel is my mission to make sure that this is never forgotten and to have this song made a staple in the celebration of Black History Month each year.
How did you get into Billie Holiday’s music and what are you doing to ensure that her legacy lives on?
Well, when I would sing those who heard my voice recognized the resemblance to Billie Holiday. I am an avid skater and happened to be out skating one evening when I was approached by a talent scout looking for performers for a production called “Rhythm on Wheels.” I mentioned to him that I’d been told I sound like Billie Holiday and he invited me to audition. So, I auditioned and got the part. This sparked my interest in her and I learned that she died on my birthday. That’s how it all began for me. “Remembering Billie Holiday” is a very informative musical documentary focusing on her accomplishments. My goal is to make the performance an annual event in Chicago and cities abroad.
You mentioned you suffered from stage fright and a karaoke machine helped you overcome it, how did that happen?
Every time I would try to sing I had stage fright so bad I couldn’t do it and so as the years went by I said, “well this is not meant for me” Carl Fowler heard me sing and said he would help me and he took me out to different places to sing with the Karaoke machine, and that is how I overcame the stage fright.
Loretta Lee’s debut CD is titled Good Bye. For more information, visit